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September / October 2011
Starve the Beast?
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Starve-the-beast proponents make a simple point. Since money sent to Washington (or Sacramento or Albany) will inevitably be wasted, the solution is to send as little money as possible to those places. California has been fertile ground for proponents of the starve-the-beast approach because of the state's unique constitutional provision that permits legislative proposals to be decided directly by voters.

It's been said that if you want to see where America is headed, you should study California. The state was the first jurisdiction seriously to tackle the problem of air pollution from auto emissions. It led the way in promoting energy-efficient appliances. It was a forerunner in the expansion of rights for women and minorities. It was among the first to confront the issue of secondhand smoke. And it also spawned the anti-tax crusade that has dominated public discourse for the past three decades.

ImageOn June 6, 1978, Proposition 13 won the approval of almost 65 percent of Californians who voted in an election with near-record turnout. Officially called the People's Initiative to Limit Property Taxation, the main provision of this measure was to limit California property taxes to 1 percent of a property's assessed valuation, which in turn would be prohibited from rising more than 2 percent in any year.

Debate continues about the specific details of Proposition 13's impact on the state. But no one seriously questions that it significantly dampened what had been a long-run upward trend in tax revenues. Unlike the federal government, state governments are generally not permitted to run persistent budget deficits. There is thus little question that Proposition 13 also prevented much government spending that otherwise would have occurred.

Since at least some of that spending would have been wasteful, the supporters of Proposition 13 can claim, without fear of contradiction, to have eliminated some government waste. But it's a much harder task to persuade neutral observers that Proposition 13 made California a better place to live. All government programs exist because legislators have constituents who favor them. Some of these programs deliver good value for the money. Others are boondoggles. When revenue shortfalls force government to make budget cuts, the best predictor of which programs get the ax is the power of the particular constituents who support them. As Alaska's Bridge to Nowhere clearly demonstrates, however, the mere fact that a group supports a project does not mean that it serves the broader public interest. The inescapable conclusion, then, is that Proposition 13 has also caused many worthwhile programs to be cut.

What's been the net effect? In his 1998 book Paradise Lost, Peter Schrag grappled with that question. Schrag, who had been the editorial page editor of the Sacramento Bee for nineteen years, offered a meticulously researched and studiously nonpartisan account of the state's economic and social history during the two decades following passage of Proposition 13 and numerous other ballot initiatives aimed at curbing the scope of government.

The portrait that emerges is of a state dramatically different from the one that had been "both model and magnet" for the nation during the generation immediately following World War II. The California government's fiscal position has continued to deteriorate sharply in the years since Paradise Lost was published, and its overall prosperity relative to other states has fallen spectacularly. In 2009 alone, for example, revenue shortfalls forced the state to make some $20 billion in additional budget cuts. But even the first twenty years of Proposition 13 had left the state a very different place. Thus, Schrag wrote,

California's schools, which, thirty years ago, had been among the most generously funded in the nation, are now in the bottom quarter among the states in virtually every major indicator—in their physical condition, in public funding, in test scores—closer in most of them to Mississippi than to New York or Connecticut or New Jersey. . . . Its once celebrated freeway system is now rated as among the most dilapidated road networks in the country. Many of its public libraries operate on reduced hours, and some have closed altogether. The state's social benefits, once among the nation's most generous, have been cut, and cut again, and then cut again. And what had once been a tuition-free college and university system, while still among the world's great public educational institutions, struggles for funds and charges as much as every other state university system, and in some cases more.

Proponents of Proposition 13 counter that other factors have been important in the state's long-run relative decline. Undoubtedly so. Yet the fact remains that chronic revenue shortfalls have been at the core of the state's problems.

Antigovernment activists insist that the best way to deal with revenue shortfalls is to eliminate wasteful government spending. Who, other than the direct beneficiaries of a wasteful program, could possibly object? The difficult question is how to eliminate wasteful spending without inflicting even more costly collateral damage. Experience suggests that the starve-the-beast strategy is not the answer.

Starve-the-beast proponents might be likened to a doctor who treats a patient suffering from intestinal parasites by ordering him to stop eating. The patient's food intake, he explains, is the very lifeblood of the parasites. Cut that off, and they will eventually die. Well, yes. But the patient himself may die first, or be seriously damaged in the process. That's why the approved strategies for attacking parasites all take a much more targeted approach. They attempt to inflict damage on the parasites directly, while minimizing collateral damage to their host.

It's instructive to push the parasite-host analogy a step further, by noting that no complex organism is ever completely free of parasites. Yes, the organism benefits from reducing its parasite load, and that's why natural selection has always favored organisms with effective immune systems. But natural selection has always favored the most effective parasites, too. The battle against parasites entails costs as well as benefits. The rule of thumb for how to wage such battles is the same as that for battles in other domains: use the most cost-effective weapons first, and use them to attack the most dangerous parasites. But eventually a point comes at which the cost of the next weapon exceeds the costs imposed by the most dangerous remaining parasite. Beyond that point, additional parasite reduction actually leaves the organism worse off.

The same logic applies to the problem of waste in government. The best way to reduce it is surely to reach first for the most cost-effective weapons at our disposal and deploy them against the most important causes of waste directly. To do that, of course, we must ask why waste exists in the first place. Often the answer is that politicians support wasteful programs because of demands from important campaign donors. A good place for opponents of waste to focus might thus be on legislation that could reduce legislators' dependence on large campaign contributions. (Small donations pose a less serious threat because the individuals who make them are in no position to extract major concessions from legislators.) The cost of enforcing stricter campaign finance laws would be relatively low, and such laws would be likely to curb some of the most important sources of government waste. But the U.S. Supreme Court has shown little inclination to support stricter campaign finance laws in recent years. On the contrary, its controversial ruling in the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case appears to signal the court's intention to roll back even long-standing limits on corporate campaign contributions.

Unless the court reconsiders, opponents of government waste will have to continue working their way down the list of alternative strategies. One lesson of the Bridge to Nowhere episode, for example, was that boondoggles are less likely to survive politically when more voters learn about them. The information revolution has greatly reduced the cost of putting information in front of voters, so we might make some progress there. But the same revolution has also caused explosive growth in the total amount of information that bombards us each day. Thus it may be just as hard as ever to draw voters' attention to any particular wasteful program.

In short, attacking government waste is a project that will be with us forever. Going forward, new technologies and better institutional design may facilitate significant progress, but they will never eliminate waste entirely.

Government may be imperfect, but there are no countries without one. The territory of any such country would have long since been invaded and claimed by some other country with a government and an army. So our challenge is to come up with the best government possible.

Transparency International, a Berlin-based nonprofit group, conducts periodic surveys to assess the quality of the world's governments. The organization publishes a Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), based on its definition of corruption as "the abuse of public office for private gain." Its surveys ask respondents to report "the degree to which corruption is perceived to exist among a country's public officials and politicians." Some countries, such as Myanmar and Somalia, are perennially near the bottom of Transparency International's CPI. It's no accident that they and other persistently low scorers on that index—which include Afghanistan, Haiti, Tonga, and Uzbekistan—are among the poorest nations on the planet.

Government may be imperfect, but there are no countries without one. Our challenge is to come up with the best government possible.Notwithstanding the rhetoric of antigovernment crusaders, there seem to be some governments that are relatively free from corruption and do at least a reasonable job of responding to their citizens' demands for public goods and services. In a three-way tie for the least corrupt government on Transparency International's 2007 list were Denmark, Finland, and New Zealand. Singapore, Sweden, Iceland, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Canada, and Norway rounded out that year's top ten in that order. Here, too, it's surely no accident that most of these countries are among the richest on the planet.

The causality undoubtedly runs in both directions. Having a more honest and effective government helps support activities that raise per-capita income. And being richer generally makes citizens more able and willing to support more effective forms of governance. But the correlation between per-capita income and the CPI is far from perfect. For example, the United States, which had higher per-capita income than any of the top ten on the 2007 CPI, ranked only twentieth-best on that list, primarily because of perceptions that our campaign finance system had corrupted Congress.

In countries with honest and effective governments, the view that promoting good government is a worthwhile investment would not strike most observers as absurd. Yet that does not seem to be the position of antigovernment evangelists in the United States, many of whom view government service with thinly veiled contempt. The foundation of honest and effective government is a professional civil service that takes pride in its work. Fostering a climate in which government is viewed with contempt inevitably makes it more difficult to recruit talented and dedicated civil servants.

If we must have a government, it's surely worth thinking seriously about how to promote good government. What public goods and services do we want? How can we best raise the money to pay for them? And how can we attract the kinds of civil servants we're willing to install in positions of trust? Going forward, questions like those should be our main focus.

 

Robert Frank is the Louis Professor of Management in the Johnson School, a New York Times columnist, and the author of such books as Luxury Fever, Falling Behind, and The Economic Naturalist's Field Guide. He also co-authored the textbook Principles of Economics with Ben Bernanke.

Excerpt from The Darwin Economy by Robert H. Frank, to be published by the Princeton University Press on September 21, 2011. © 2011. All rights reserved.

Comments (22)Add Comment
1979
written by John Renz, August 31, 2011
The article is too short to indicate if the professor has examined the potential pluses and minuses of term limits.
I believe far too much time, energy, money and unconstructive communications are devoted to winning another term.
1957
written by John ( Jack) Schuerger, August 31, 2011
The Bridge to Nowhere was stopped because the country found out what a waste it was. Regardless of ones beliefs, the discussion of the national debt has made everyone conscious of the problems we face and hopefully we will uncover and repeal more "bridges".
1990
written by Robert Franzese, August 31, 2011
I believe the money slated for that bridge to nowhere ended up being sent to Alaska anyway, essentially in cash. The project was killed, but not the dollars sent to Alaska (a cheap place to buy Senatorial & Electoral-College votes, thanks to enormous & moderate malapportionment, respectively). All of which puts a hilariously wry twist on the Alaskan-governor's/VP-candidate's claim to have rejected pork: We don't want Washington's earmark projects! (We prefer their much more fungible cash!!)
1965
written by Al Truax, August 31, 2011
Not all agree with Professor Frank's statment "the United States, which had higher per-capita income than any of the top ten on the 2007 CPI" -- Norway and Singapore are listed as having significantly higher CPI per capita in 2007 and continued to outpace the USA in 2010. Check with World Bank, CIA and Flagcounter sources.
'69
written by Charles W. Smith, August 31, 2011
Californians having over $46,000 AGI per year pay 9.3% in state income tax, one of the highest rates in the nation (ref. http://www.taxadmin.org/fta/rate/ind_inc.pdf). So, they were successful in restricting the amount and growth of the property tax, but not the income tax.

It seems the larger states, where individuals have less power, have more problems of the nature you refer to than smaller states. I used to live in Delaware. I now live in Pennsylvania. To me, a direction that we could take is restricting the "jurisdiction" of government entities. Local governments, counties in particular, seem to be very efficient. Many think a weakness in our constitution is with the commerce clause, which could be amended to restrict what the federal government can do legally.
1983
written by Zac Gordon, August 31, 2011
I had a class with Prof. Frank as a graduate student. I remember writing a paper for his class on how marginal costs should be apportioned for a road expansion project. Prof. Frank pointed out that my recommendation for requiring future users to pay the full cost for the road expansion was flawed in that current users of the road bore some finacial responsibility as well. With respect to our current financial mess, I would submit that this same approach be applied, and that both current and future taxpayers and beneficiaries bear responsibility for extricating us from this mess. Unfortunately, the expertise to accomplish this admittedly Hurculean task probably does not exist in Washington DC. I would actually propose a one-term coaltion government focused on righting our listing financial ship, led by those who have the ability to actually address and solve our structural budget problems. In my view, much of the problem with our balooning federal deficit and budget is that the federal government has simply become too large - doing many things that are more appropriately addressed at the state or local levels (or by the private/non-profit sectors) - and cannot possibly efficiently manage and deliver all the services and programs currently being provided. Back to the road expansion analogy, building more "lanes" (or bridges to nowhere)must occur within our ability to fund them, be apportioned fairly and meet our "needs", rather than our "greeds"
2007
written by Josh Cross, August 31, 2011
Prof. Frank writes:

"The inescapable conclusion, then, is that Proposition 13 has also caused many worthwhile programs to be cut."

But this is not the inescapable conclusion. The proper inescapable conclusion is: that Prop. 13 has also caused many programs to be cut.

Nowhere in his analysis, nor in reality, is there any evidence that worthwhile programs were cut (or never come to exist). Certainly there is no reason to believe that, in general, worthwhile programs are necessarily cut because of "starve the beast" policies.

Prof. Frank's main confusion lies in the general confusion about representative democracy: that the will of the people (as represented by gross majority vote) is necessarily good. Simply having constituents that favor a program does not make the program good; nor does it make the program a worthwhile use of money.
2008
written by Ryan Morris, August 31, 2011
1965
written by Robert Fisher, August 31, 2011
The primary thing that Proposition 13 did for Californians was to provide some certainty what a person's tax liability would be when investing in a home. Without such certainty, investment decisions are more difficult. Prior to the passing of Prop 13, home owners were facing a doubling of their taxes almost annually. When a state legislature is looking to pass laws outlawing fitted sheets in hotels and is ignoring the unfunded liability of public employee pensions, there are bigger problems than any "lost" revenue from Prop 13.
1976
written by Andrew Gillis, August 31, 2011
Contrary to Mr. Cross' comment above, NPR reported today about the difficulties that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency is having getting funding to replace the aging weather satellites that allowed it to predict correctly the path of Hurricane Irene last week. Surely it is hard to argue that accurate weather forecasting isn't in the interest of all of us, rich and poor alike. Would it be better if we had less advance knowledge of when a serious storm would occur? If "the beast" is starved, this is certainly one possible outcome.
2001
written by Jacob Schuelke, August 31, 2011
Being a resident of CA I can tell you that we have 12% of the population and 33% of the nations welfare rolls along with the nations most generous Medicaid and disability systems. The problem with CA is not prop 13 revenue its spending and more specifically we don't build roads we pay people not to work. Add to that if you are poor and you do work we take away government benefits as salary increases so the marginal value of labor is near zero. We have the exact same problem as Greece. The reason why Canada is a sucess is that spending reforms took place in the last 20 years and they have a No Confidence vote system that they use regularly to kick the bum's out.

Your idea that by taking away freedom of speach in the political process we will solve all problems is both laughable and frightening. Maxine Waters is going to get elected and play Robin Hood regardless of how much money she got from whom. What we need is adherence to what the founders put in place. All spending must be justified under Article 1 Section 8 and don't distort the meaning of General Welfare.
1980
written by John Dolan-Heitlinger, August 31, 2011
Any restrictions on campaign contributions, other than limiting them to US citizens and organizations of citizens is clearly an abridgment of our First Amendment rights to political speech.
Under the Constitution the Federal government is only allowed to do those things specifically delegated to it.
Supreme Court justices who do not take a strict orginalist interpretation of the Constitution should be impeached and removed from office.
Unfortunately Dr. Frank sees to take the position that the Federal Government can be anything our current Justices, Senators, Representatives and President choose for it to be regardless of what the Constitution specifies.
1994
written by Chris Santos-Lang, August 31, 2011
The following article, "Security and Surrender", argues that a successful process for addressing corruption would be like a reboot. It would trigger off of an authoritative establishment of brokenness; it will not be a gradual starving nor the continual self-improvement hinted at by Prof. Frank. There are practical steps that can be taken to determine whether our government is broken or not, and it is important to take them, but once we have the answer, let's move on.
http://gadflydad.blogspot.com/2011/08/security-and-surrender.html
97
written by Derek Kerton, August 31, 2011
Josh Cross,

"Nowhere in his analysis, nor in reality, is there any evidence that worthwhile programs were cut (or never come to exist). Certainly there is no reason to believe that, in general, worthwhile programs are necessarily cut because of "starve the beast" policies."

Heck, yeah, there is reason to believe that. In his 2007 budget, Schwarzenegger cut EVERYTHING by 10%, saying 'the fat has already been trimmed, so now everything gets cut'. If good programs existed, then good programs were cut. http://articles.latimes.com/20...me-budget6

You doubt that worthwhile programs were cut?? I don't think is should be required for Dr. Frank to state the obvious in what is a two page summary of his book. But if you need an example, I have kids in CA schools. The school budget is shrinking annually. This week, I bought a heavy duty stapler and printer toner for my daughter's class, chosen off the teacher's wish list. I will be asked for ongoing support, since the school is unable to afford such supplies. Also, the class size grows every year. I also volunteer as a reading coach, and this year the reading groups have grown from 5 to 7 in the 2nd grade, and there are not enough copies of the books, so four kids need to share. Budget cuts are definitely impacting schools and education.

As a Cornell Alum, I would hope that you would agree that a high-quality education is very useful - not just for the student, but eventually for the economy as a whole. Larger classes, and a lack of tools and equipment do not bode well for the results of the current spending levels. Of course, the negative effects only become easily visible many years hence, when increasingly educated Indian and Chinese kids kick our asses in a global economy.

All this reminds me of trips I've taken to Africa and Indonesia, and other poor countries. I've learned to take hundreds of pencils and pens with me to give to children after repeatedly hearing them beg, not for food, but "Hey, mister! You have pen?" The notion of not providing kids with adequate tools to feed the thirst for learning strikes me as one of the cruelest realities of humanity. Though CA and African schools are worlds apart, I will say this: I should rather their schools become more like ours than our schools become more like theirs.

To your last point, the Professor's conclusion is not that majority rule = good. I have no idea where you interpreted that. He is saying that "starve the beast" causes measurable decreases in GDP and quality of life, as noted in Mr. Schrag's book of 1998 and by history since then. The point was made that schools, roads, libraries, social benefits, and more are negatively affected, largely as collateral damage from sweeping cuts. Extrapolating the argument, Frank also asserts that funding NO federal government would result in being conquered by some neighboring state with a government, which he considers a negative. As an econ prof, I assume that Dr. Frank is concerned with maximizing something known as "net social benefit", and his positions seem to support that.

You can't just make up your own incorrect conclusion of the Frank article, then say it's wrong! Instead, work with the conclusions the author offered.
59
written by tom golden, August 31, 2011
I have only read the excerpt on the website, but I did find it quite interesting the comments cited by various readers of the same excerpt. Cornell alumni are truly among the 'best and the brightest'. Off topic, but related to years at Cornell. We were not 'hazed' in some physical manner at Pi Lam, but in hindsight swallowing a live goldfish, or while blindfolded obliged to possibly grab a banana floating in a toilet bowl, or a human stool- not hazing but surely 'dumb'. Despite those moments, a rather amazing 4 years on the Hill.
2003
written by Jose Baldan, August 31, 2011
Dr. Frank uncovers a simplistic and draconian approach, Starve-the-Beast, for a foundational and complex issue, the role of government. In a country where the misinformed and less educated are puppets of the most powerful lobbies and easily manipulated by a growing biased mass media, no wonder we are amused by Tea Party favorites complaining that "government should stay away from their Medicare". Redefining the role/responsibilities/priorities of government at all levels, shifting short-term focus closer to the source of immediate needs/issues, and political reform to include across-the-board term-limits, and campaign financing limited to individuals/voters/constituents are among the few combined efforts that will deliver far more sustainable and effective results than the short-sighted Starve-the-Beast one solution fits all approach.
1958
written by Robert H. Bernard, August 31, 2011
Several details about Prop. 13 were not mentioned in Prof. Frank's article:

1. There was no sunset clause that would automatically cause Prop. 13 to expire or require a new vote. Whether the CA constitution allows such clauses I don't know, but having one may very well have caused the voters to render a different verdict on Prop. 13 since it was adopted thirty-three years ago.

Whether or not voters would pass the exact same Prop. 13 today or would pass a modified one is unknown. However, I would wager a few quid that if a new proposition were proposed asking simply whether Prop. 13 should be reconsidered, it would elicit an overwhelming YES vote.

2. Prop. 13 had a second component. It applied only to the owners of a real property only as long as they owned that property. At a sale, the new owners were immediately subject to a property reassessment at the then prevailing value, and taxed accordingly. This created multiple classes of real property owners, those that held property since 1978, and those who bought since then. And I assume that over 33 years, sales created more than two classes of real property, each having different levels of reaction to their tax burden.
1974
written by Mitch Tedeschi, September 01, 2011
John Rentz's comments about term limits are spot on.
A six year limit in Congress would have a remarkable effect
on wasteful spending. It would also negate any need for canpaign finance laws which only support Washington lawyers hired to navigate around them.
Unfortunately, since Congress would vote on any term limit
legislation I doubt I will see any progress on this idea in my lifetime.
1997
written by Derek Kerton, September 02, 2011
Robert Bernard,

You are right on. There are many distortions in the real estate market because of what you have written.

Here in CA, friends choose to live in houses that are totally inappropriate for them. Whether too big or too small, or more commonly, too far from their work, they remain in the house because they have a shelter from taxes and if they moved they would have to pay much more. The case is exacerbated in situations where they are living in a house they bought from their parents (which still retains the indexed rate).

Between that, and tying health care to employment, the government seems fixated on reducing the mobility of labor. How is this useful when we need a mobile labor pool to pursue opportunity in regions where it can be most productive? How does this help people to live near their work, so they can commute less, pollute less, and clog the roads less?

Prop 13 protects the proverbial widow, whose home has increased in value so much that she cannot afford the taxes. Should I feel sorry for her? I don't, given that I'm the poor sot that has to pay her a king's ransom for her tiny home that she bought for 12k in 1960. And, no, I don't like the idea of putting grandma on the curb, but this is not 1980. We have financial instruments like equity loans, reverse mortgages, and other annuity instruments that would allow grandma to tap into the real estate fortune she was lucky enough to amass. Is she really the person that needs gov't protection? She won the CA real estate lottery!

You're also right that Prop 13 discriminates against new homeowners, or anyone foolish enough to actually move to where their work is. Especially after the massive rise in housing prices since the early 1990s. Not only do recent buyers pay tax on the current assessed value, but some of us bought homes for 4x what our neighbors paid for equivalent homes.

Sadly, the impression I get when talking to Californians (not just the people mentioned above), is that they do not want to lose Prop 13. Like Joe the Plumber, who is certain that one day he will be a rich business owner, Californians don't want to repeal the system, they just want to get on the winning side of prop 13.

All in all, our system of populist Propositions is an anathema to representative democracy, subject to the whims of doublespeak and lobby campaigns, influenced by nothing other than money, and prevents our elected officials from doing what they were elected to do. A sunset requirement on every one of them would be great.
1976
written by Mike Lavengood, September 15, 2011
Typically, the author uses hyperbole to buttress his argument. The quote from Grover Norquist was not serious policy recommendation. It was a humorous comment which friends understand implicitly and brings nods of agreement by same. The left's tired slogan "anti-government" is used to describe those who support the rule of law and power limits as defined by the Constitution. Judges who feel that they have abetter vision for society infer ideas that are clearly not in black and white. Everyone has a vision and an agenda. The Constitution was designed to minimize the damage the powerful egos would surely bring. When did limiting political power become a questionable strategy?
1988
written by J. S. Greenfield, September 18, 2011
Mike, the author noted that Norquist's comment was colorful. It's obvious to any reader that the comment is hyperbolic metaphor. It's also the case that the quote reflects Norquist's serious philosophy that lower taxes are ALWAYS better -- the logical extreme of which is precisely what Norquist's "colorful," hyperbolic comment suggests. I really don't see what it is that you find so troubling by the author's use of the quote.

As to substance, I'm surprised that nobody has questioned the author's assertion that stricter campaign finance law would be an effective tool to reduce waste in a more targeted fashion.

To my view, that represents a superficial analysis, that ignores any of the empirical evidence we have from decades of campaign finance laws. Over the same period of time that campaign finance laws were first imposed, and then steadily made stricter and stricter, the influence of money on politics has steadily become greater and greater.

Merely coincidence? Or as some would argue, laws failing to keep up with social changes and loophole exploitation?

In _The Future of Freedom_, Fareed Zakaria makes a strong argument that the steady increase of financial influence has been DIRECTLY CAUSED by campaign finance laws, which actually render politicians more and more directly dependent on donors.

It seems to me quite important to consider and understand such effects -- and the significant likelihood that campaign finance laws are actually a study in unintended consequences -- before asserting that more campaign finance would be an effective tool for efficient reduction of waste in government.
1958
written by Robert C. Camp, October 04, 2011
Effectiveness and Efficiency in Government

Quote; “Government may be imperfect…..Our challenge is to come up with the best government possible.”
The media and others are suggesting that the public wants a slash and burn reduction of government, at all levels; Federal, State and Local. The examples of duplication, overlap, burdensome regulations, outright fraud and rampant spending growth are drivers of this call for change. The following example from a pulpit one recent Sunday epitomizes the problem; “There are 24 words in the Pythagorean theorem, 286 in the Gettysburg Address but 26,911 for the regulation on the sale of cabbage.”
On the surface this may seem to be what is wanted. But on more careful consideration the public is believed to be raising a more serious, fundamental concern. Members of the public have no confidence (much less data) in the effectiveness or efficiency of government. They have even less confidence that they are getting value for their tax dollars. There are no performance measure benchmarks for government agencies, much less evidence that best practices are being pursued. And there are no progress reports on these issues to citizens.
Is there a way to correct this? It is believed there is.

Conducting Performance Reviews – The Baldrige Performance Excellence Criteria and Award
The Baldrige Performance Excellence Award criteria and experience are compelling examples that organizations can show they are effective and efficient and are progressing toward known benchmark goals. (Formally the National Quality Award, http://www.nist.gov/Baldrige/)
The NQA process is a known, time tested template and proven criteria for judging excellence in manufacturing, small business, education, healthcare and non-profits/government since 1988. The number and scope of awards is a treasure trove of ready made best practice learning and includes the local government recipient; Coral Springs, Florida.
Identifying Best Practices and Establishing Performance Benchmarks – National Partnership for Reinventing Government
During the Clinton administration Vice President Gore was charged, by Executive Order 12862 to conduct a National Performance Review (http;//govinfo.library.unit.edu/npr/library/status.ex.sum.html). The initial focus was to “put customers (citizens’) concerns first.” Customer service standards and measures were benchmarked against the best in class operations in the public sector as well as the private. The best were identified, why they were best determined and action plans were formulated to make agencies as good or better.
Many mission critical operations were studied and some very fine benchmarking work was done including Best Practices in; Resolving Customer Complaints, Performance Measurement, Achieving Workforce Diversity and others.

Reporting Progress towards Effectiveness and Efficiency – Industry Environmental Reports
Many industrial firms regularly report on performance measures, benchmarks and progress toward best practices to their stakeholders. The most obvious are the reports on stewardship of the environment by firms such as GE and DuPont. These reports cover some of the toughest activities to quantify and show improvement in environmental compliance – yet they have been done – and done commendably.
In summary, the point of these examples is to show there are accepted templates, established criteria, proven processes and reporting examples applicable to government operations that that have successfully demonstrated achieving superior performance. The question is why aren’t these tools being pursued today to show that government entities can be effective and efficient?
If this were done perhaps the average citizen would regain trust in government and accept a fact based justification for its initiatives and funding.

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